Advance with MUSC Health

Flu Season Check-In: The ‘Is it Flu or COVID’ Edition

September 12, 2022
Doctor Benjamin Lamb

By Benjamin Lamb, M.D.

It’s influenza season, and, again, we are faced with deciphering all the symptoms and dealing with what is now an annual conundrum: Is it the flu or COVID? It doesn’t seem fair that there could be another virus going around besides COVID, but here we are — again!

The 2022 flu season makes that determination a little more difficult since Omicron, particularly its most recent variants, presents so closely to the flu. As if that’s not enough to worry about, it’s even possible to test positive for both the flu and COVID. (Top tip: Your primary care doctor may be able to test you on the spot to diagnose both using a PCR test!)

Is it the flu?

So what does the flu look like? Common flu symptoms of 2022 can (but not always) include:

  • Fever above 100 F
  • A cough or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (most common in children)

Flu or COVID Quiz: Covid vs. Flu Symptoms

Now, let’s do a comparison.

We strongly encourage everyone who experiences any of these symptoms to seek care for a definitive diagnosis, particularly if you have an increased risk of flu-related complications. Your primary care doctor can give you a physical, observe symptoms of the flu, and potentially order a test that detects influenza viruses. They may also diagnose you without the need for a test.

But here’s a brief symptom check to help you know what to look out for:

  • Cough: Both flu and COVID sufferers can experience cough, but COVID-19 usually presents with a dry cough.

  • Muscle aches, chills, tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and shortness of breath can be symptoms of both COVID as well as flu.

  • Fever: Omicron usually causes fever in its victims, while the flu doesn’t always do so.

  • Vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea: Only sometimes does COVID cause vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. All are more common in children with the flu.

  • Loss of taste or smell: This is a tell-tale sign of COVID and usually occurs early and often without a runny or stuffy nose. This is rarely the case when it comes to the flu.

How to prepare

Get vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19. The new Omicron-specific booster directly addresses those new variants that so closely resemble the flu. Ask your primary care doctor about receiving the updated COVID booster along with your flu shot this year. 

How to treat the flu — and COVID 

As for treating the flu (or COVID), your primary care doctor may opt to prescribe you an antiviral drug, which — if taken in time (the antiviral medication for flu must be started within 48 hours, while the COVID medications can be started up to five days after onset) can lessen symptoms and shorten the amount of time you are sick by at least a day or two. It can also help prevent serious complications, like pneumonia, and could mean the difference between a milder bout and a hospital stay. 

It’s important to check in with a doctor as your symptoms worsen, especially if you are at a higher risk of serious flu or COVID complications. 

You can make an appointment (in-person or virtual) with an MUSC provider here or by calling 843-792-7000.

Benjamin Lamb, M.D., is a primary care physician in Lake City offering care for patients of all ages, from infants to seniors. MUSC Health Lake City manages the health of your entire family and provides preventive and diagnostic care for both acute and chronic illnesses to help achieve and maintain good health. In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, the clinic provides routine checkups, health-risk assessments, immunization, sports physicals, and screening tests.